Each fall, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia sets out with 200 local leaders to take part in its flagship conference, the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange (GPLEX). This year we’re headed to the dynamic southern jewel New Orleans to learn about their trials and resilience. The goal is to connect and educate leaders from Philadelphia to strengthen our region’s communities upon our return.
GPLEX has hosted thousands of leaders from Philly over the past 20 years, and some are steadfast supporters. That holds true for this year’s co-chairs: Ann Marie Healy (Philadelphia Health Partnership), Dominique Goss (M&T Bank), Malik Brown (Graduate Philadelphia), and Maria Wing (Deloitte). Chosen each year based on their influence, dynamism, and affection for the GPLEX program, and they are prominent faces throughout the conference.
It’s been proven that the best connections are born out of experiences in new environments that challenge and imprint on the senses, and that’s exactly what GPLEX is.
Every GPLEXer has a core memory from a trip to a host city, so we asked our co-chairs to share their fondest memories. In a four-day trip that packs in experiences of exploration, dining, learning, and networking, it can be hard to choose just one. However, relationship building stands out as one of the most long-lasting impressions.
“It is nearly impossible to reminisce about seven remarkable and distinct GPLEX experiences and extract one memory that I rank above all the rest, ” said Brown, who’s been at Graduate Philadelphia for over five years. “Perhaps my fondest memory was reconnecting with colleagues and friends at GPLEX 2019 in Detroit after two years of Zoom and Microsoft Teams fatigue. The emotions were raw and the need for meaningful human connection was infectious.”
Wing, who’s an advisory specialist leader at Deloitte and was previously deputy CEO at the Delaware River Port Authority, highlighted the conference’s role in building and strengthening relationships.
“My fondest memory arises from GPLEX Seattle, where an impromptu dinner turned into drinks which then turned into karaoke,” Wing said. “To this day, I consider some of the folks who participated in that odyssey my GPLEX buddies.”
The program includes both carefully engineered networking, and casual meetups. Healy, who’s been leading the Philadelphia Health Partnership for over a decade and a half, felt the warmth of a purposeful meetup during her time in Detroit.
“Finally meeting my Detroit GPLEX mentee/buddy Jamila Harris-Morrison after searching for each other over the first day and half [was a] lesson learned to keep your eyes, mind and heart open for new connections and friendships,” Healy said.
And she’s looking forward to more. “Connecting with the diversity of members of the business community both in New Orleans and Philadelphia region to explore new possibilities for Philadelphia” is the key to an impactful GPLEX,” she added.
Malik Brown agrees. “At GPLEX, professional connections turn into meaningful partnerships and friendships,” he said. “As a result of GPLEX, I’ve gained board members to support the work of Graduate Philadelphia and friendships that are hard to put a price tag on.”
Leaders find that their personal work and outlook are often affected by the GPLEX experience, from a new sense of purpose for the work that they do, to collaboration on an idea that solves a problem for the Philadelphia community.
“GPLEX has always aligned with a professional inflection point for me,” said Wing, adding that it “surrounds you with folks who are equally dedicated to improving the lives and livelihoods of Philadelphians and the residents of the metropolitan area.”
As with any conference, it can be difficult to muster the social energy and attention required to get the most out of your time. What advice would these co-chairs offer first-time or returning GPLEXers?
“Network, network, network!” said Wing. “Identify folks you want to meet and make a point of making an introduction, and be open to new experiences and new people.” The GPLEX planners make a point of providing personalized material on all of the participants ahead of time so people can sketch out connections in advance.
The time spent planning ahead and resting up for maximum social stamina can pay off.
“You will get out of GPLEX what you put into it,” said Brown. “Show up, be present, get out of our comfort zone, and push your own boundaries. Show up as your authentic self. Outside of Philadelphia, for three days, you can remove the masks and military armor and show some vulnerability and human emotion.”
Healy sees the benefit of being somewhere new: “[It’s] a time to disconnect from Philly and explore NOLA and its treasures as well as meet new people.”
There is a massive amount of learning planned for this conference in the forms of panels and regional explorations; the conference team has lined up 11 field trips over the course of three days from which participants can choose, based on their interest areas.
For some, like Wing, who is interested in “learning more about how New Orleans has navigated the issues surrounding public safety,” there is a planned tour of a new facility created to monitor communities with the use of private cameras. This site visit is juxtaposed with a family justice center in order to showcase two sides of a complex issue. A panel on community violence is also on the docket in a prominent time slot, as it is an issue that affects both cities substantially.
In the end, GPLEX is a precious moment in time for many Philadelphians. “Relationship currency is business currency,” said Brown. “The relationships forged at GPLEX are immeasurable.”
“It is a special space to inhabit,” Wing said. “It ‘feeds’ me in a way that is difficult to articulate but sublime to experience.”